I find quite often that, when thinking about the writing process, new writers know they have to write and finish a first draft, and that there is some form of editing and proofreading that comes afterward. What they sometimes miss is what comes between the first draft and final editing: Revision. Or more specifically, the role revision plays in the writing process.
The revision phase is where the real crafting of a story takes place. As Malamud said, it’s where the writer shapes and enlarges ideas from the first draft and crafts them into a final story. It’s where the real writing, the most important writing, takes place. Hemingway, ever terse, seemed to agree when he reputedly said, “The first draft of anything is sh**.”
There are some high-volume writers who would disagree. This kind of writer may have a goal of publishing a new book every month or two. With such a schedule, speed is key. If you’re looking for ways to cut production time, cutting the revision process entirely would seem an obvious choice. But by definition, a reduction or elimination of the revision phase brings a reduction in quality of the final story.
The high-volume writer would argue (maybe) that they sell tens-of-thousands of books (or more) and their readers think the quality of their work is just fine. Absolutely true. If you thought this post was to say the high-output, no-revision writer’s work is bad, you’ve missed the point.
This post contains two primary messages, both aimed at newbies. First, crank out the first draft. So many writers, both new and more experienced, get bogged down in trying to get their stories “just right” the first time through. Why happens is it takes years to finish, if they finish at all, and the final story becomes overly mechanical. Stephen King once wrote (On Writing?) something like, “Write your first draft as fast as the gingerbread man can run.” You should.
Second, and unless you’re trying to publish faster than the gingerbread man can run, the revision phase is where a newbie writer can unleash his or her creativity and craft the core ideas from the first draft and take the story to its full potential.